Chopin and Feminism
NARRATOR: The Awakening and some of Kate Chopin's short stories got negative reviews largely because of her frankness about sexual awareness and the desires for some female characters to gain independence. The cool reception of Chopin's works caused her to destroy some of her stories such as one called "A Poor Girl" and "Young Doctor Gosse".
SOUNDBITE: David Chopin/Kate's Grandson
Well this was a woman whose personality was different than the writers of her day, and because her personality was different, it came out in her writings, naturally, just how the personality of some other writers would come out, and hers happened to be a personality which as I say was warm and open and loving and accommodating and accepting and ah, strong feelings about things and not afraid to put them into words, and that got her into trouble, but redemption came a half century later.
NARRATOR: That openness appears to be what helped bring back Chopin's works in the 1960s and 70s, during the women's movement. Women rushed out to buy Chopin's works especially the book, The Awakening. But, major Chopin scholars indicate she would have probably frowned at the thought of being part of any movement.
SOUNDBITE: E. F. Genovese/Emory University
She was making a very firm point that the freedom which serious writers are concerned is the freedom of the imagination, the freedom of the soul, of the spirit, the internal freedom. It is not in rearranging society closer to the heart's desires. It's an understanding of the heart's desire in all its permutations.
NARRATOR: Despite Chopin's intents, she definitely had an impact on the women's movement. One of her greatest fans, Chopin biographer, Emily Toth.
SOUNDBITE: Emily TothEmily Toth/Louisiana State University
I can't say The Awakening changed American society, but, I think The Awakening encouraged women like me, who were in grad school at the time and read it, to pursue growth and striving. I was the first grad student in my program ever to, to study women's studies, and it was because of Kate Chopin, so, I think she would be thrilled to know what we're still talking about her, still gossiping about her. I think she'd be honored. I think we're honored that we have her.
NARRATOR: It is also on The Awakening is now included among the top five American novels that are "required reading" for college students in this country. It's also on many reading lists in secondary schools throughout the English speaking world.